'Pro-Life' double standards
By Ellie Lee
The operation to separate the conjoined twins, 'Jodie' and
'Mary' went ahead yesterday, with 'Jodie' surviving. She
is now in intensive care, in a critical condition.
This followed a last minute
attempt by the Pro-Life Alliance on Friday last week to
bring legal action to prevent the surgery. The Pro-Life
Alliance lodged an appeal at the High Court to have the
official solicitor Laurence Oates removed as Mary's guardian,
with Bruno Quintavalle, director of the Pro-Life Alliance,
putting himself forward to act on her behalf. If the case
had been won, the Court of Appeal's ruling that the operation
should go ahead could have been challenged. The application
was however swiftly rejected.
From the start, in making
their objections to the proposed separation of the twins,
anti-choice organisations have emphasised that they support
the right of the parents to decide what should happen to
the twins. However, their recent antics at the High Court
demonstrate their commitment to parents' rights only extends
to instances where parents agree with their 'pro-life' stance.
In making the case that
he should represent Mary, Quintavalle in fact went entirely
against the parents wishes, since the parents had made the
decision, following the previous High Court ruling in favour
of separating the twins, that the operation should go ahead.
This raise the question asked by Christa Ackroyd in the
The parents didn't want
the appeal, neither did the lawyer appointed to protect
their interests. So what made an outsider think he had the
god-given right to interfere?
It could certainly be argued
that, in the face of opposition on the part of hospital
doctors and High Court judges to their wishes, the parents
had little choice but to accept the ruling made earlier
in the year. Nontheless, to still return to the Court, without
the consent of the parents, demonstrates that just like
the lawyers and the doctors who have made the decisions
about what should happen, the Pro-Life Alliance is perfectly
prepared to disregard the parents feelings and opinions,
It is unfortunate that in
the course of the debate about the twins, the argument for
the parents being able to decide what should happen has
been substantially monopolised by the anti-choice movement.
As their opposition to abortion clearly demonstrates, the
commitment on the part of such people to the notion that
people should be granted the moral autonomy to make difficult
decisions, is shallow indeed.
In the case of the twins
however, even if many might have chosen a different path
themselves, the idea that ultimately it should have been
the parents of Jodie and Mary, not the doctors at St Mary's
Hospital or High Court judges, to be given the responsibility
of deciding what should happen, is a compelling one.
One of the few articles
published this year to make a principled case for the parents
being able to decide follows. Comment by Raanan Gillon,
professor of medical ethics at Imperial College London,
also in favour of letting the parents decide, can be found
on the BBC website at:http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_937000/937057.stm
Is subscribers would like
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BBC News on-line, 'Move
to halt Siamese twins op' Christ Ackroyd, Sunday Express,
6 November 2000 'Surgeons will separate Siamese twins today',
6 November 2000
The Times 11 September
The question is not how judges should rule on Jodie and
Mary, but why
The affair of Jodie and
Mary is no longer a medical case of doctors separating Siamese
twins. It has been turned into a legal case of judges separating
parents from their children in a public dissection.
The case resumes in the
Court of Appeal this week, where three Lords Justices of
Appeal will decide whether to uphold the original decision
that the operation to separate the twins, designed to save
Jodie by sacrificing Mary, should go ahead against the parents'
wishes. Everybody seems to have an opinion as to which way
Lord Justice Ward and his colleagues should turn their thumbs.
Yet too few have asked the more fundamental question: why
should it be any of their business? From where did the Court
of Appeal judges acquire the authority to dictate the fate
of these babies?
Never mind the new powers
promised them under the Human Rights Act, it appears that
the judges of England have already taken upon themselves
the right to act like God.
The parents insist that
it cannot be God's will for one of their children to die
so that the other might survive. I share none of their religious
principles, and have nothing but contempt for the misnamed
"Right-to-Life" groups and Italian cardinals who
are trying to make political mileage out of their personal
tragedy. But as one who hopes to raise his children in a
secular and free society, I am far more alarmed by the tone
of papal infallibility in Lord Justice Ward's declaration
that "it was not God's will" that the weaker twin
The decision over whether
to operate or not should rest with the parents, not with
the Church, the State, the judges or even the doctors. The
twins' mother and father are the ones who will have to live
with the consequences of that decision for the rest of their
lives. We have heard all about the sleepless nights that
this case is causing the judges. (Is there now no public
figure capable of keeping his feelings to himself?) But
at the end of it, the judges, lawyers and expert witnesses
can go home to their own families and forget about Jodie
and Mary. That option is not open to the parents. They face
the prospect of losing both children, or perhaps being left
with one badly disabled baby that they have to abandon in
England when they return to their impoverished remote European
home. Nobody would want to be in their shoes as parents.
Nobody should try to step into their place as guardians.
In his original High Court
decision, Mr Justice Johnson overruled the parents' wishes
on the ground that they were "too overwhelmed"
to do what was best for their babies. Supporting the judge,
Baroness Warnock, author of the modestly titled An Intelligent
Person's Guide to Morals, announced that it simply was not
possible for the "traumatised" mother to make
a "sensible long-term decision". The sensible,
dispassionate experts would have to do it for her.
Since when was it a problem
for parents to be emotionally involved with their children?
Of course these people were "overwhelmed" by the
tragedy engulfing their family. But the intensity of their
pain should be taken as a sign of commitment, not incompetence.
It is the emotional intimacy between parent and child, the
love that the mother and father have invested in Jodie and
Mary, that means they are best placed to make the decision.
Instead we are faced with a consensus that "emotional"
parents cannot be trusted to do what's right for their offspring,
so bring on Lady Warnock and Lord Justice Ward. The precedent
set could have frightening implications for the future of
For a decade now, English
family law has held, as Mr Justice Johnson told the parents,
that "the interests of the child are paramount".
That sounds like common sense, but in some ways it is the
nub of the problem here. A legal framework has been established
in which it appears to be assumed that a conflict of interest
exists between parent and child, so that the authorities
must have extra powers to intervene on the child's behalf.
The accelerating trend towards making matters of private
morality the subject of public policy has brought us to
the tortuous courtroom circus surrounding Jodie and Mary.
If I were the father involved,
I might well have wanted to follow the doctors' advice and
consent to the operation. But who knows? All I can say for
certain is that nobody cares about a child more than its
parents. And if we are continually to be lectured about
the need for responsible parenting, we should be allowed
to take parental responsibility for those whom we love.
As every parent knows, Mary and Jodie are not the only ones
joined at the heart.